What Is Alt Text, Why Do You Need It, and How Do You Write It?

If you’ve ever uploaded an image to your WordPress media library and wondered what ALT text is and what it’s for, you’ve come to the right place.

Regardless of which content management system you use, adding ALT text to your images is always a best practice, and it can even help with search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

To explain what ALT text is and how search engine crawlers and accessibility programs use it, we’ve created a guide.

What we’ll cover:

What is Alt Text, Why Do You Need It, and How Do You Write It?

ALT Text 101

Why ALT Text Is Important

ALT Text for SEO

How To Write ALT Text

ALT Text 101

ALT text, also known as alternative text, ALT attributes, or ALT descriptions, is a snippet of text that describes the content of an image. Ideally, you should add ALT text to each image on your website, including:

  • Images in blog posts
  • Product images
  • Vectors and logos

Why ALT Text Is Important

ALT text serves three important purposes:

  • SEO
  • Website accessibility
  • Text placeholder when images are slow to load or fail to load
An example of ALT text for an image that didn’t load
Image Source

ALT Text for SEO

ALT text is a beneficial tool every content marketer and website owner should use for SEO. In addition to helping website crawlers identify an image’s contents, you can use ALT text to help direct traffic to your website from image searches.

At the time of writing, nearly 38% of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPS) feature images, and that’s likely to increase in the coming months and years. Because search engines crawl source code, not images, images without ALT text are essentially invisible.

This can impact both image search optimization and your chances of ranking well for organic content when faced with competition that uses ALT image text effectively.

The bad news is that if you’re not using ALT text for images, you’re missing out on an opportunity to rank, particularly for image searches.

Here’s the good news:

A surprising number of websites don’t use ALT text, so implementing this strategy can have a measurable impact on your organic traffic and rankings.

Even better?

ALT text is easy to master, and even if you haven’t been using it, it’s easy to conduct an audit and identify which images on your website are in need of optimization.

The free program Screaming Frog will crawl your website and identify images without ALT text. It’s important to note, however, that websites with more than 500 pages require the extended paid version to crawl the entire website.

Additionally, Google recommends as an image best practice not only adding ALT image text, but including descriptive file names as well.

In other words, naming your images based on descriptions rather than using generic titles like “image030.jpg” is also beneficial for SEO, so consider using descriptive titles for file names.

How To Write ALT Text

The nature and structure of an image’s ALT text will depend on the type of file in question. For example, ALT text for a decorative image will differ from ALT text for a logo or functional image such as a telephone or printer icon.

In general, ALT text should offer a descriptive explanation of an image while keeping in mind user search intent, accessibility programs, and voice search.

How To Write ALT Text for SEO

When writing ALT text for SEO, don’t just consider a description of an image, but the intent as well.

Take this image of Argentinian soccer player Lionel Messi for example.

Argentinian soccer player Lionel (Leo) Messi during the 2018 World Cup
Image Source

An example of ALT text focused on the description of the image may look like this:

ALT=”soccer player” or ALT=”man wearing soccer jersey”

A great example of ALT text optimized for SEO, on the other hand, may look like this:

ALT=”Argentinian soccer player Lionel (Leo) Messi during the 2018 World Cup”

Consider not just the description of the image, but what individuals may be searching for.

For WordPress, ALT text can be added to any image during upload or from your media gallery, and it can also be added through source code on any CMS.

Interior of 114 Wedding and Event Venue in Nashville, TN
Image Source

Within a WordPress Media Library, ALT text and an image title can be edited by clicking on the image.

ALT Text on WordPress Media Library
Screenshot

ALT Text and ADA Compliance

One of the most important reasons to use ALT text is for the use of accessibility programs designed for audio and visually impaired individuals. These programs offer alternative methods of website browsing but require descriptive titles and captions that can be scanned and processed.

For example, an individual with a visual disability or impairment may use a program that reads text aloud as they browse a webpage.

With descriptive text, the program reads the description of the image, inferring the contents and the location of the image within the text. Without descriptive text, the program may skip the image altogether or offer a notice to the user that no description is offered.

For the best browsing experience, we recommend using the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which outline the need for ALT text to help programs for the audio and visually impaired.

The WordPress 5.6 update makes optimizing for accessibility even easier. You no longer need a plugin to add captions to video, and you can now post an auto-generated accessibility statement for your website.

This latest update also meets the highest accessibility standards set by WCAG 2.1, so we anticipate WordPress and other major content management systems to continue rolling out accessibility features.

More Tips for Writing ALT Text

Now that we’ve covered why ALT text is important for SEO and accessibility, here are a few more best practices to keep in mind.

  • Limit ALT text to 130 characters or less
  • Never begin ALT text with “image of” or “picture of”
  • Consider SEO — but as with content, don’t keyword stuff, or Google will penalize you for it

Final Thoughts: ALT Text — What It Is, Why You Need It + How To Write It

It’s clear ALT text is important for both SEO and accessibility and should be a concept all content marketers and SEO specialists use.

Optimizing your website and content for accessibility is the right thing to do, not just for SEO purposes, but in consideration of individuals with hearing and visual impairments.

Now is the time to optimize your images with ALT text and descriptive titles if you want to stay ahead of the game. Get started with Bluehost’s affordable WordPress hosting to make adding ALT text to your images simple.

Machielle Thomas
Machielle Thomas | Content Manager
Machielle Thomas writes and curates web and email content for marketing professionals, small business owners, bloggers, and more.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*